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Henry Louis Gates Jr. jailed for disorderly conduct in Cambridge, MA

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009
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UPDATE 12:36 PM 7/21/09 — According to the Associated Press, Cambridge prosecutors have dropped the disorderly conduct charge against Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Noted Harvard professor and frequent THIRTEEN host and editor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr. was arrested by Cambridge, Massachusetts police at his home on Thursday, July 16 on charges of disorderly conduct. According to the police report, a woman called police to the house after seeing a man “wedging his shoulder in the front door [of Gates' house] as to pry the door open.” Gates had just returned from filming in China for the upcoming THIRTEEN / PBS documentary, “Faces of America.” Gates allegedly confronted the officers at the scene, accusing them of racism and “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to the police report. Professor Gates was subsequently arrested, held at Cambridge police headquarters and released four hours later on his own recognizance. Neither Gates nor the Cambridge police have commented on the incident at this time.

Gates has been the host and editor for numerous productions at THIRTEEN, including African American Lives, African American Lives 2 and Looking for Lincoln.

Gates’ lawyer and Harvard colleague Charles Ogletree has released a statement on behalf of his client:

This brief statement is being submitted on behalf of my client, friend, and colleague, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This is a statement concerning the arrest of Professor Gates. On July 16, 2009, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 58, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor of Harvard University, was headed from Logan airport to his home [in] Cambridge after spending a week in China, where he was filming his new PBS documentary entitled “Faces of America.” Professor Gates was driven to his home by a driver for a local car company. Professor Gates attempted to enter his front door, but the door was damaged. Professor Gates then entered his rear door with his key, turned off his alarm, and again attempted to open the front door. With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates’ luggage into his home.

Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver’s license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates’ photograph, and the license includes his address.

Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gates’ request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officer’s name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gates’ home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates. As Professor Gates followed the officer to his own front door, he was astonished to see several police officers gathered on his front porch. Professor Gates asked the officer’s colleagues for his name and badge number. As Professor Gates stepped onto his front porch, the officer who had been inside and who had examined his identification, said to him, “Thank you for accommodating my earlier request,” and then placed Professor Gates under arrest. He was handcuffed on his own front porch.

Professor Gates was taken to the Cambridge Police Station where he remained for approximately 4 hours before being released that evening. Professor Gates’ counsel has been cooperating with the Middlesex District Attorneys Office, and the City of Cambridge, and is hopeful that this matter will be resolved promptly. Professor Gates will not be making any other statements concerning this matter at this time.

Sources: The Boston Herald, The Boston Globe, The Harvard Crimson, The Root


  • Reggie Greene / The Logistician

    We have three observations about the Harvard professor incident:

    1. We find it interesting that the fact that this was the professor’s home was evidently not established early on way before the dispute escalated;

    2. We find it fascinating that the versions of two members of society, who most would ordinarily view as responsible and honest citizens (this obviously does not include politicians), would vary so dramatically from a factual point of view.

    3. Finally, considering that the reading and viewing public were not present at the scene (and thus have no first hand knowledge), and that there is no video tape to our knowledge of the sequence of events and what was said, how so many have formed conclusions, and made assumptions, about who did what and who was wrong.

    There are some things which Professor Gates might have considered upon the arrival of the police, no matter how incensed he may have been.

  • Gayle Simon

    That someone would be arrested in front of their own home period is a travesty. That the someone is arrested because another is immature, bitter and envious is disgusting. We need to revamp our police departments to weed out losers, loose cannons and troublemakers. They make us as a society look very bad and we’re better than that.

  • Andy Rodriguez

    I have to agree with Reggie. Unless there is a recording of this incident we will never know the real truth. On one hand you have a man who has fought against racism his entire career because of his color and on the other, you have someone who has worked at and demonstrated his ability to not see a mans color when it comes to doing his job, or did he in this case. It seems to me, the unfortunately uneducated, that there may have been racial undertones by both these men. It seems to me our own biases lead us to take sides in this case even though there is no real data to go on.

  • A. Richter

    The question here is really this: if a Caucasian man responded as Prof. Gates did, meaning if he yelled at the police officer and made it difficult for the officer to determine in an actual break-in had occurred, would that white man still have been arrested for disorderly conduct? I think the answer is YES. It is interesting that a professor who is friends with the President would initiate the issue of race during this incident. It is even more interesting that the President would reference racial profiling regarding this incident during his press conference, especially when the President admitted he did not yet know all the facts of the case. I think it clearly shows the prism through which even the most educated and illustrious African Americans in this country view themselves, and the issue of race in America. The actual police report is available online, and the first “racial” stone was cast by the Professor. He would have been better served by simply thanking the police officer for checking on his property, shown him his ID, and wished the man a nice day. But there’s no publicity in that, is there?

  • D. Carr

    Mr. Gates needs to stop viewing the world through his own racist lens. He was the true racial profiler that afternoon. Shame on him. Tsk, tsk.

    Shame on Cambridge for not making him face the charges.

  • Norris Hall

    Can a person be arrested for being unruly and uttering derogatory remarks to the police on his own property?

    If so, we can all understand why the authorities in Iran and China feel compelled to protect order by imprisoning angry unruly street protesters on public property.

  • Norris Hall

    I think it’s time we start putting some limits to “Freedom of Speech”.
    When speech becomes a vehicle to challenge authorities and deliver messages they don’t like, I think “disorderly conduct” rules are an excellent way to put a lid on the right to say whatever you want to whomever you want.
    Police demand respect. People have an obligation to address authorities with respect and deference.

    Take those protesters in Iran, for example. They can’t be allowed just go out on a public street and start yelling and protesting. They can’t be allowed to defy police orders to disband. They can’t be allowed to yell threats like “Death to Ahmadinejab”.

    They deserve to be arrested and punished…just like Gates…

    Don’t you agree?